Hassan Al-Battal
November 24, 2009 - 1:00am

Who is this man, this “dour official leading a revolutionary cultural change?” Salam Fayyad is not always formal, though mostly to be seen wearing a necktie. He did, however, wear shorts and ran in the handicap marathon in Nablus. And what are these “revolutionary cultural changes” as perceived by certain deep Israeli analyses, but dismissed as irrelevant by other Israeli analysts? According to Dr. Einat Wilf of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, Israel would do itself a favor if it took Mr. Fayyad seriously. Why? Because he is leading a Palestinian change of direction in which building a de facto Palestinian State is the goal, with or without Israeli approval, with or without negotiations.

As she says, in the past Palestinians constantly behaved as “eternal adolescents” who see the entire world as guilty, from the United Nations to Zionism and Israel, for the injustices that have and continue to befall them. What Mr. Fayyad, a graduate of the University of Texas, and not from prisons and trenches, is doing is destroying a “culture of comfort” for Israel when he decided that the Palestinians should take responsibility in shaping their lives by building the institutions of a state, which is what Zionism did when it built the framework for an Israeli state before it was established by an international resolution.

Let us look, from our perspective, at the reasons why Israeli is not dismissing lightly the program of empowering of the Palestinian state. Mr. Fayyad has adopted the language of the Palestinian public discourse, but he has focused on specific hinges of it. For example: instead of saying in a speech that the Jordan Valley is part of the Palestinian State, he says: “we do not want a state that is completely surrounded by Israel.” This is an invitation to frame the problem in a manner receivable by the Western perspective, because there is “no country within a country” in the entire world, and no country that surrounds another like a bracelet surrounds a wrist.

To cite another example: it is not enough in the current Palestinian public discourse to say that you refuse to build a state with temporary borders. But if you say that you have the right to build the infrastructure in Zone C, the world will more likely listen to your fair logic: for example, building schools in Zone C, or establishing a project to extend the access to water.

Here’s a third example: Palestinian political discourse holds that the second Intifada broke out because Israel violated the Oslo Agreement provision which states that the “final status” issues must be resolved after five years of signing the agreement.

It is true that the public discourse describes the occupation as the longest in the 20th century, but it is useful to remind us, as Fayyad does, that there is a transition period that has lasted for 16 years.
Then, there is no “whining” in Fayyad’s new political-cultural discourse. It is important to move forward, not just with the new discourse, but on issues such as collecting real estate taxes, the waste water systems, or the development of an office of civilian police.

The truth is that Fayyad’s discourse is defined a political ceiling built by the second head of the Palestinian Authority (or the third, if the transition period after Arafat is counted), who won the election due to this discourse: yes to a popular peaceful resistance but no to a third (actually second) armed uprising.

Now, let us assume that Fayyad was Japanese, American, German or British. Voters there would vote “for change” based on an economic and social agenda that provides solutions to the crises that are of concern to the citizenry.

In Mr. Fayyad’s conceptualization, as this Israeli scholar has pointed out, declaring the independence of Palestine on a specific date/goal by 2011 or 2012 –is not sterile gesture, or a political leap printed on paper, as was the declaration of independence in 1988. We are a people on our own land, and we have to build the institutions of a state practically, and not just rely on slogans and political rhetoric only. We must resist the occupation and settlement project with our own project for building a state and independence.

After Arafat’s death, the poet Mahmoud Darwish said important things: we do not need another Arafat, who was a unique figure at a specific moment, but we do need “managers.” Mr. Fayyad is playing the role of the “managing director,” or in the language of corporations, is the “chief executive officer” of the project.

His vision is not really very far from the classical “resistance culture” of the Palestinians, but he is modifying it, and introducing a new path of having a culture of politically “creation.”
Indeed, the classical “resistance culture” is a continuation of the Pan-Arab “liberation culture,” which is a culture that is no longer suited to the existing reality, which requires moving to the “culture of creation.”

Fayyad is “the son of the country.” And he is not a factional leader. All he says has already been said by the poet: “this is our country… and we have none other.” That is why the Israelis are “shocked, confused and some are even hopeful.” Hopeful of what? That someone other than themselves can save them from the quagmire of the occupation.


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